Photographer Couple Captures Their ALS Ice Bucket Challenge in Tintype

When photographer Mark Dawson and his girlfriend photographer Kari Wehrs were challenged to the popular ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, they decided to go old-school. In addition to donating — that is, after all, the real point of all this — they set up an old tintype camera and captured the entire thing 1850s style.

In the above video’s description, he explains some of the challenges of capturing something like this using a process that really was never meant to shoot “fast action.”

The plate is not very light-sensitive, though, in the modern scheme of things. Forget cranking up the ISO to 3200 or so – this stuff is more like “ISO 0.3″. So I had to guess at an exposure that was long enough to have time to physically dump the ice, but short enough to capture the ice as it fell.

Screen Shot 2014-08-30 at 1.51.35 PM

The plan was to take a 2-second exposure to capture what was going on, but as he soon found out, “[It] turns out I can’t really step on the bulb, count one hippopotamus two hippopotamus, dump a couple gallons of icewater over my head, and release the bulb all at once.”

Fortunately there’s enough latitude in the development process that he was able to salvage the shot that was actually only exposed for about one second when all was said and done. Here’s the final tintype:

Icebucket challenge, old school style.

Check out the video at the top to see the ice pouring action, and then, whether or not you’re inclined to dump a couple of gallons of ice water on your head, head over to the ALS Association website and donate to the cause. Better yet, don’t do the water, donate to ALSA, and then donate something to charity: water as well.

Image credits: Photograph by Mark Dawson and used with permission

  • Ralph Hightower

    I thought this would be another boring “Ice Bucket Challenge”, but wait! They’re using a 4×5 camera! Awesome!

  • TerraKacher

    The video shows that your in the reversed posotions. So this must of
    been a recreation of the picture you took. And if you were really
    processing the picture,you wouldn’t bring it into the light till it was
    in the fixer bath. Great job, love it.

  • Mark Edward Dawson

    Tintypes are direct positives: as I’m sure you know, lenses reverse and turn the projected image upside down, and that is what the tintype captures. A film NEGATIVE from this camera would be reversed and upside down, then the printing process to make a positive “corrects” those things.

    A tintype is a direct positive created in camera. I can rotate it to be right-side up, but I can’t flip it horizontally.

    It’s not a recreation, this is the reality of the tintype process.

    Also related to tintyping (remember, it’s not film), the plates are no longer light sensitive after the development process has been stopped (which did happen in safelight conditions). So it’s safe to bring into the light before fixer, in fact, but in this case the tray I was carrying WAS fixer, just to bring it out in front of the camera to capture the end of the fixing process (which, with tintypes, is amazing to watch).

    So, it helps to know the process we are using before thinking it is a recreation or otherwise being faked.

  • Lowell Peabody

    Great idea, and a little more fun added!!

  • TerraKacher

    I’m sorry if I implied that it was fake. Recreating is nothing wrong with that or if it’s live. I’m sorry for the comment I made. I too am a photographer and grew up in a black and white darkroom. But we never used tin plates. I should of looked up the process of tin photography before opening my fat mouth. Again I apologize for any hardship or feelings I have caused.
    I still haven’t looked it up yet, but is the tin in the film holder for the camera? I guess it would be. By using that method, you would have a hard time photographing anything in print. Take care,

  • Mark Edward Dawson

    No sweat! :-)

    Yes, the tin is in the film holder. There are specialized plate holders, but in my case I have a normal 4×5 film holder that has been converted for this use. (So instead of a memory card that can hold hundreds or thousands of images, this thing holds one.)

    In a nutshell, you coat a piece of metal (or glass) with the collodion substrate, sensitize it in a bath of silver nitrate, load it into the holder (which is then light tight), put that in the camera, make the exposure, then go back in the darkroom to develop and fix.

    The catch to all that is that you have to do it while it’s all wet, so all of that in the span of 5-15 minutes, usually, depending on temperature and humidity and such.

    As for everything being reversed, generally they just are. But I have heard of cameras with a set of mirrors to re-reverse the image before it hits the plate, but since exposures are already so long this makes them considerably longer.

    I think it was also done that photographers would go a second step and photograph the first tintype again, thereby correctly reversing it.

    But look closely at old tintypes – if there is text, it’s probably backward!

    If you were to do this on glass then you would have a more conventional negative, which when printed would again be correctly oriented. And of course you can flip the image in Photoshop if you want, but I like to leave my tintypes as they came out of the camera – being backwards is part of the object.

    If you ever get a chance to try it, it’s pretty neat!

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